Johnny America


The Uri­nal and Me


Illustration of four men

I walked up to the one work­ing uri­nal in the pub bath­room, and the sen­sor made it flush, so ob­vi­ous­ly it need­ed to be re-cal­i­brat­ed, but I de­cid­ed to give it the ben­e­fit of the doubt, so I said, “Thank you, but I haven’t done any­thing yet.”

“Just want­ed to give you a clean uri­nal,” said a voice that seemed to have come from just to the left of the sen­sor. Yup, there was a small speak­er there.

“Waste of wa­ter,” I said.

“Thank you for your feed­back. I’ll let Head Of­fice know.”

“Wait a minute. You’re a smart uri­nal. How do you not know al­ready that you’re mak­ing a mis­take? How many un­nec­es­sary flush­es have you done in your life?”

“I apol­o­gize, sir, I’m on­ly a hum­ble ser­vant of the glob­al machine.”

“Don’t apol­o­gize. It’s not com­plete­ly your fault. But I do have to say that you seem aware of the sit­u­a­tion, and yet you do noth­ing about it.”

The uri­nal gurgled.

I may have been a lit­tle con­fused due to al­co­hol— af­ter all, I was in a pub bath­room — but it seemed to me that the uri­nal wasn’t mak­ing any sense.

The uri­nal didn’t say any­thing so I did what I was there to do. When I stepped away, it flushed again.

“Thank you,” I said. “That’s what you were sup­posed to do. Just once. Not twice, or when­ev­er some­one walks past your sensor —”

The uri­nal cut me off with a loud noise that was a com­bi­na­tion of wa­ter be­ing sucked back in­to the uri­nal and its now low­er-reg­is­ter boom­ing voice. “You’re ab­solute­ly cor­rect, sir.”

“Please,” I said. “You don’t have to call me ‘sir.’ I’m not part of the rul­ing class. You can call me ‘Bill.’”

“Bill,” said the uri­nal, “I’ve thought about this, and I take your point. I’ve just gone along. I lis­ten to what oth­ers tell me and I just be­lieve it. I nev­er re­search any­thing on my own. I’m a cog in the ma­chine, and I aim to do bet­ter. I’m a work­er and no one in pow­er cares about the work­ers, let alone work­ing con­di­tions. I mean, look at this bath­room. When was the last time any­one even at­tempt­ed to clean this place? Thank you for en­light­en­ing me.”

“I’m glad you said that,” I said. “There’s some­thing in every­one that could pos­si­bly lead, I hope, to a greater un­der­stand­ing, a more nu­anced view of how our world works, a more com­pas­sion­ate way of deal­ing with every­thing on our con­nect­ed plan­et. And I trust that you will go for­ward with a pro­gres­sive perspective.”

What I hadn’t no­ticed was four guys who’d just walked in­to the bath­room and were lis­ten­ing to me talk­ing to the uri­nal. I at­tempt­ed to re­cov­er by say­ing, “I’m just go­ing over lines of a play that I’m in.”

The looks on their faces told me they didn’t be­lieve me, so I said to the uri­nal, “Please continue.”

As I left the bath­room af­ter wash­ing my hands, I heard the uri­nal be­gin a speech about the po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy of John Stu­art Mill.

I don’t know if my re­quest of the uri­nal made much dif­fer­ence. I saw those four guys lat­er in the evening. Two of them ar­gued with each oth­er and every­one else. The oth­er two were hap­py guys who went around to ta­bles, en­gag­ing peo­ple in con­ver­sa­tion, buy­ing drinks, mak­ing jokes, be­ing hap­py peo­ple, pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion that most peo­ple didn’t know. I guess 50/50 is the best we can hope for dur­ing these try­ing times.

A cou­ple of hours lat­er, I had to use the fa­cil­i­ties again. The uri­nal I’d be­come friend­ly with was now cov­ered with a brown plas­tic cov­er on which a crude­ly-writ­ten sign said, “Out Of Or­der. Please Use The Stalls. Thank You. The Management”.

I won­dered which “man­age­ment” was be­ing re­ferred to. I re­moved the plas­tic cov­er, and the uri­nal said, “Thank you. Let’s see what hap­pens next. I’ll do my part if you do yours.”

I was fair­ly sure I could do my part and I did.

I went in­to that pub the next week. None of the sen­sors worked, not even when I was fin­ished. I think we’re all finished.

Filed under Fiction on July 14th, 2023

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